CNN O.J. Simpson Trial

Mob figures called to discredit detective

September 20, 1995
Web posted at: 1:00 a.m. EDT

From Correspondent Anne McDermott

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- O.J. Simpson's defense team called two mob figures to the stand Tuesday in an attempt to undermine the credibility of a lead detective in the case.

[Philip Vannatter] Defense attorneys summoned Craig Fiato, a.k.a. "Tony the Animal," and his brother Larry in an effort to show Los Angeles Police Detective Philip Vannatter lied when he told the jury Simpson was not an immediate suspect in the slaying of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.

Judge Lance Ito banned audio and video taping of the testimony because the Fiato brothers had expressed concern for their safety.

On the witness stand, Larry Fiato indicated that Vannatter contradicted his trial testimony.

According to a transcript of his testimony, Fiato said the detective told him in January Simpson was a suspect. "Word for word, I don't know," Fiato said, "but it was something to the effect that he went over there as Mr. Simpson (was) a suspect."

When questioned by prosecutor Brian Kelberg, Fiato said, it was not a serious chat, and that they were laughing and joking.

[Craig Fiato] Craig Fiato's testimony was more vague. He said Vannatter mentioned that the husband is always a suspect but did not make it clear he was speaking of Simpson.

Defense attorney Robert Shapiro questioned Vannatter about the conversation with Fiato.

"(D)id you tell Larry Fiato that ... that you went to Rockingham because O.J. was a suspect, the husband is always a suspect, on the 18th floor of the balcony while smoking a cigarette in February of this year?" Shapiro asked.

"I don't have a specific recollection of making that statement; I don't believe I did make that statement," Vannatter replied.

"Are you saying you didn't make that statement?"

[Denise Brown and Fiato] "May I finish my answer, please? ... Again, any person that has personal contact with a murder victim is a potential suspect until they are eliminated, until the investigation is completed. He may have taken something out of context. I have no recollection of making that statement."

Prosecutor Brian Kelberg tried to show that Vannatter's conversation with Fiato was brief and casual.

[Whitehurst] Earlier Tuesday, Shapiro made a point of saying that Denise Brown, sister of victim Nicole Brown Simpson, had an affair with Craig Fiato. Brown's mother, who was seated in the courtroom, angrily denied the affair, and the Brown family's attorney demanded an apology.

The defense also introduced an FBI agent, a so-called handler of the Fiato brothers, who said he caught of snippet of Vannatter's chat with Fiato. Then it was prosecutor Kelberg's turn again.

"Was he being sarcastic?" Kelberg asked. "In my view it was total sarcasm," the agent said.

102k AIFF of Kelberg questioning the agent.
170k AIFF of Johnnie Cochran questioning the agent.

The defense case resumed Tuesday after being on hold pending resolution of matters relating to witnesses.

Also Tuesday:

  • Ito said he would rule Wednesday on whether or not another FBI Special Agent Frederick Whitehurst could testify for the defense. Whitehurst has been critical of the FBI lab, which processed some of the evidence in the Simpson trial.

  • Jurors received good news: Ito said they might hear closing arguments as soon as next Tuesday.


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